He is the sexy priest

46723540Your friends here at GetReligion are not big on reading the tabloids, but we have received a few notes from people asking what we think of the tabloid-esque coverage of Father Alberto Cutie, the famous “Father Oprah” of television and South Beach.

Clearly some newsrooms cannot help themselves, when it comes to the man who is the sexy priest. I mean, this story finally made it to the New York Times, which is rarely called a tabloid.

However, the surprise to me is that some reporters have handled this like pros and have searched for the issue inside the racy story. And what is that issue? Clearly it is that Cutie’s fall has left some conservative Catholics, especially Hispanics, wondering about the mandatory celibacy rule. Some of them are wondering out loud.

But first, a round of applause for the Miami Herald for getting a simple fact right, a simple fact that Godbeat veteran Richard Ostling often cites as one of the most annoying errors that he keeps seeing make it into print. And what is that mistake? As Ostling told me, when I was reporting my chapter in “Blind Spot”:

Journalists often report that Rome does not ordain married men.

“Now it would be accurate,” said Ostling, “to say that the overwhelming majority of men ordained as Catholic priests are not married. It would even be accurate to say that ‘almost all’ priests are not married. But what about Eastern Rite Catholicism, where you have married priests? Then there are the married men who have been ordained in the Anglican Rite, who used to be Episcopal priests. You have a few Lutherans, too.”

Thus, the Herald team — which is all over this story, naturally — slips in this quick reference:

With few exceptions, Catholic priests are celibate, which means they don’t marry, and refrain from sex. The Roman Catholic church has left the policy virtually unchanged for the past 900 years, saying it allows for a dedication to God and the church without distraction.

And there you have the heart of this story. According to the Herald, and others, the fall of this celebrity priest is underlining the degree to which Catholics feel conflicted about the celibacy rule. In other words, why are the majority of priests required to be celibate, while a few Catholic priests are not? If and when conservative Catholics — pounded by years of scandals about sexuality and the priesthood — start saying this, you have a story.

The latest is that Cutie has gone on television (click here for the CBS coverage) and, in English, said very simply: “I’m not sure what I’ll do next.” Keep trying that link, because it has been running really slow all day.

Meanwhile, the newspaper has asked local Catholics what they think and I was able to open that report:

Despite declaring he is not ashamed of being with the woman he loves, the Rev. Alberto Cutie remains highly popular among Miami-Dade Catholics, who overwhelmingly oppose the church’s long-standing policy of requiring a celibate clergy, a poll conducted for The Miami Herald over the weekend has found.

Among the poll’s findings: A substantial majority — 74 percent — of those surveyed, including Hispanics and non-Hispanics, oppose the Roman Catholic Church’s prohibition of priests marrying or having any type of sexual relations. Only 22 percent said they supported the prohibition, while 4 percent said they were unsure or gave no answer.

That majority was even larger — 81 percent — when those polled were asked whether they thought priests and nuns should be able to marry because the “celibacy requirement for Catholic clergy is antiquated and no longer viable.”

186-cutie-cbsembeddedprod_affiliate56Number the Washington Post among the other newspapers that have spotted the celibacy issue in this tabloid feast. Here’s a recent lede by godbeat veteran Michelle Boorstein:

His audience is reportedly in the tens of millions. His relationship advice in his books, TV and radio shows has spurred the nickname “Father Oprah.” Hispanic Catholics and believers across Latin America follow the handsome priest whose parish is the Miami beachfront. But will the Rev. Alberto Cutie actually shift the centuries-old debate on celibacy?

The Post adds:

The apparent public support for Cutie mirrors polling on celibacy and the priesthood. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last year found that 36 percent of Catholics favored the church’s policy, while 60 percent opposed it. Peruvian author and television host Jaime Bayly told 24 Horas Libre that there is nothing “immoral or perverted” about being a young man “healthy with desires. He is perfectly capable of loving and serving God, and loving a woman.”

However, once again the coverage suffers from a common problem — assuming that there is one unified body of people out there in the pews that can be called “the Catholics.”

There are all kinds of follow-up questions that have to be asked by these pollsters if they want to chart any sign of movement on this issue. At the very least, they have to separate Anglo and Hispanics. Then they need to separate frequent Mass attenders from people on the far edges of the flock.

They also have to realize — look at that Herald question in particular, which pasted together two radically different issues when it asked “Catholics” about their views on the “prohibition of priests marrying” or “having any type of sexual relations.” The latter is a much bigger issue than the former, in terms of ancient traditions and doctrines.

Stay tuned. Hopefully the Herald site will be running smoothly again soon.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Fr. Denis Lemieux

    I find it odd that the issue of clerical celibacy, which is a Church discipline and could change (and does, in fact, admit of variations in practice) is conflated in media coverage with nuns (and presumably monks) being celibate. Consecrated life is, by definition, celibate, and has been as a matter of essential definition since the primitive Church. A married priest is perfectly possible and in fact exists; a married nun or monk is a contradiction in terms and always has been.
    Also (and I’m trying very hard here to stick to media coverage and not the issue itself) it would be good if reporters could discover and report that the Church does not consider sex to be ‘immoral or perverted’ and that the celibacy requirement in place does not flow from any such understanding of human sexuality. A bit of context would be nice, in other words, and not that hard to achieve, either.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    “Your friends here at GetReligion are not big on reading the tabloids . . . ”

    Speak for yourself, TMatt! It’s one of my worst vices!

    Just kidding . . .

  • Fr. Denis Lemieux

    Also, this brings up an interesting question of journalistic ‘framing’ of a story. Fr. Cutie became a priest of his own free will – he freely vowed to live according to the laws of the Church which were well known to him at that time and which did not subsequently change ater his ordination. He would have been taught to consider himself as ‘married’ to the Church, which has profound theological, spiritual, and moral implications that any priest should understand.
    And yet, upon his (suspiciously public) breaking of these vows, the Church is ‘framed’ as the villain in the piece. It is as if Elizabeth Edwards was to be treated as the one at fault in the John Edward’s infidelity story, isn’t it?

  • http://www.soilcatholics.blogspot.com Peggy

    His name really is Fr. Cutie? That’s funny!

  • Rick

    Fr. Denis, in the CBS footage the anchor asks if Father Cutie will be leaving the Church. If Father decides to leave the priesthood does that automatically mean he must also leave the Catholic Church. Is is possible to the laicized, then marry and still remain Catholic?

  • Fr. Denis Lemieux

    @ Rick – the short answer to your question is yes – it is possible to be laicized, etc. Our theology is that, once a priest, always a priest; the sacrament of Orders is understood to impart an ineradicable character. However, the Church in ‘laicizing’ a man is in fact dispensing him of his priestly vows and by the same act prohibiting him from exercising his priestly ministry.
    If Fr. Cutie (I feel like I’m calling him by a snide nick name every time I type that!)marries without going through that process, he is in fundamentally the same situation as a married person who divorces and remarries. Popularly referred to as ‘leaving the Church’, but that’s not how we understand it. But that’s too much to go into in a short blog post…

  • http://www.hancaquam.blogspot.com PNP, OP

    I am always amused when the media trot out poll numbers to show that this or that teaching of the Church is unpopular.

    The truths of the faith aren’t up for a vote. Never will be. So, polling on these questions is pointless…I mean, unless the real reason for the polling is to create fake controversy, which I’m sure the Catholic-loving media would never think to do.

    The popularity of mandatory celibacy among Catholics is irrelevant. 99.999% of the Catholics polled will never have to live a celibate life. Every man who presents himself for consideration to the priesthood knows that celibacy is part of the deal. No man who chooses the priesthood is forced to be ordained. The celibacy requirement is no surprise. It’s not like the bishop suddenly stands up after the ordination and says, “OH! By the way, I forgot to tell you before…no sex.”

    Let’s also dispense with the illusion that the celibacy requirement is somehow just recently become problematic. Celibacy has been the target of dissenters, heretics, rebels, and pagans since long before Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom. Lifting the requirement is seriously proposed about every fifty years or so…and always for the same lame reasons…and these proposals are always squashed the same excellent reasons.

    Bottomline: don’t wanna live a life of chaste celibacy? Don’t become a priest. Easy, cheesy.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    I was surprised by the Miami Herald’s poll question about whether “priests and nuns” should be allowed to marry. Priests are ordained clergy. They are not equivalent. The male equivalent of a nun is a monk. Nothing intrinsic to the priesthood requires celibacy. But celibacy is intrinsic to being a monk or nun. I would be surprised if 81% of Miami’s Roman Catholics think nuns and monks should be a allowed to marry. Bad poll questions result in bad poll answers.

  • Julia

    Newsbusters covered the CBS interview of Fr Cutie.


    Here are 2 entries in the combox by a former Catholic Latin Rite priest who is worried about the guy being exploited by the media and not being properly advised by his bishop.

    I was once a Jesuit. Now I’m married with four kids. I know what this guy is going through.

    But let me be clear about something. This guy’s head is spinning. He’s the worst possible person to interview right now, because this guy’s whole identity is up in the air. The priesthood isn’t just a job; it’s an identity. When you leave the priesthood, you don’t just leave a job. You leave a whole identity. You change the way you deal with the world. You change your brain. You change your heart.

    This guy’s whole identity just exploded. And they’re interviewing him about celibacy? Where is this guy’s bishop? Get him the hell away from a microphone! Putting this guy in front of a camera right now is criminal.

    Rodriguez is exploiting this guy’s vulnerability to make her own point. She calls this guy a family friend, but she’s raking him while his wounds are exposed and raw. She’s a media bull in his psychological china shop. She actually asked him, on national television, “you’re not ready to give her that yet?” Can you imagine how much damage she’s doing to the other woman, seeing her lover publicly challenged to leave the priesthood for her, and seeing him hesitate? How sadistic is Rodriguez trying to be?

    Get that guy away from a camera. Pastoral care means you give a crap about this guy’s soul. The guy is reeling, and you want to interview him? Get his ass out of there!

    – second comment by the same guy

    And one more thing. If he “leaves,” he isn’t leaving the Catholic church. He’s leaving the priesthood. If the bishop agrees to laicize him, he’s free and welcome to remain in the church.

    I feel bad for the guy. I was lucky. When I left the Jesuits, my superiors conducted the process perfectly. They made me keep my mouth shut. They told me what kind of things to expect, and it was as much a spiritual counseling session as it was anything else. Jesuits live by an code that comes from St. Ignatius, and it’s all about “spiritual discernment.” My guys took care of me.

    The fact that this guy is on TV makes me wonder who is taking care of him? You can’t leave it up to him … he’s an emotional, psychological, and spiritual wreck. You gotta help the guy.

  • Julia

    And another pertinent comment at Newsbusters’coverage of the CBS interview from a Catholic of the Byzantine Rite (who does not seem to include himself in the “Roman Catholic Church”) wanting to explain some differences within the Catholic Church:

    The Roman Catholic Church is not the be-all and end-all of Catholicism; there are a number of other branches of the Catholic faith whose rules on priestly celibacy are not the same as the Romans.

    I am a member of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, one of the many Uniate churches of the Byzantine Rite. (Think Greek Orthodox, but recognizing the authority of the Pope.) In our tradition, a married man may be ordained to the priesthood; once his wife dies, however, he is forbidden to remarry. Bishops are elected only from the celibate.

    If an unmarried man is ordained, he may not marry; in this, we are just as the Romans are.

    I find it interesting that Ms. Rodriguez continues to take the Catholic Church to task over priestly celibacy. Buddhist monks are celibate, as are priests in any number of non-Christian religions. Why doesn’t she speak as stridently against them?

    Ultimately, the Catholic Church is neither a democracy nor a prison. If you don’t believe in what the Church teaches, go somewhere else.

  • http://www.followingthelede.blogspot.com Sabrina

    It is Cutié (pronounced Koo-tee-ey).

  • dalea

    However, once again the coverage suffers from a common problem — assuming that there is one unified body of people out there in the pews that can be called “the Catholics.”

    Could not agree more. But then wonder why when the media uncovers a range of Cathoics with varied opinions on an issue (birth control, abortion, Obama at ND, gay marriage), why are there postings on how their is only the ‘official’ RC position. I lean towards the idea that the RCC is a widely vaired institution within which believers take all sorts of positions on everything. But have been told frequently at GetReligion that there is only one RC teaching and practice.

    On the bright side, the press seems to be playing up the fact that he is with a woman. This may help overcome the perception that the priesthood is Gay.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    There is only one Catholic position on the celibacy issue, too, in the Roman rite.

    You missed the point or ignored it. We are stressing that it makes no sense to create a mythical united “Catholics” body in the U.S., when there are so many different OPINIONS among people who, to one degree or another, call themselves Catholics.

    But doctrine? The press does need to know the church’s official teachings, know how to state them accurately and then let people debate them.

  • dalea


    My position is that we know what people believe not by what they claim to believe but by how they act. This position, I recall, is known as demonstrated preference. Which is a perfectly respectable way of doing issues. So, while there is a doctrine, there are also people trying to live in harmony with it. And these people can take their doctirne and apply in a variety of ways. I think the teachings of a religion can be known both by study of doctrine and by actual behavior.

  • Dan

    Yep Dalea, that’s right, Catholics are not free to make up their own versions of Catholicism, even though vast numbers of them may purport to do it. Did the Apostles get to tell Jesus what to teach? The answer is “no” and for the same reason the laity do not get to tell the bishops what to teach. (As someone once put it, only once during Christ’s life on earth were the teachings of Christ subjected to a poll of public opinion and the verdict of public opinion was: Crucify him.)

    If according to journalists the issue is the celibacy requirement for Catholic priests, should not the issue be put into the context of what the Church herself has had to say about the matter in recent years? The subject of priestly celibacy came up repeatedly during the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in October 2005. The synod’s final proposition on celibacy was the following:

    “The Synod Fathers have affirmed the importance of the inestimable gift of ecclesiastical celibacy in the practice of the Latin Church. With reference to the magisterium, in particular Vatican II and the recent popes, the Fathers have asked that the reasons for the relationship between celibacy and priestly ordination be illustrated adequately to the faithful, in full respect for the traditions of the Eastern churches. Some made reference to the viri probati [tested married men], but this hypothesis was evaluated as a path not to follow.”

    In the ensuing apostolic exhortation (Sacrementum Caritatis), Pope Benedict reaffirmed the discipline of priestly celibacy:

    “The fact that Christ himself, the eternal priest, lived his mission even to the sacrifice of the cross in the state of virginity constitutes the sure point of reference for understanding the meaning of the tradition of the Latin Church …. It is not sufficient to understand priestly celibacy in purely functional terms. … Celibacy is really a special way of conforming oneself to Christ’s own way of life.”

  • Jerry

    I think the teachings of a religion can be known both by study of doctrine and by actual behavior.

    Aye. There’s the rub.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    You lost me. What does the word “teaching” mean in that context?

    How can something be the doctrine of the Catholic Church if the Church hierarchy does not teach or affirm it?

    It can be what Catholics — a high number of them, at least — are LIVING OUT, but that does not make it the teachings of the Church.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com Joe Perez

    It’s not Father Cutie (pronounced “cutey”) but Father Cutié (pronounced “coo-tee-ay”). Apart from the missing accent mark, this commentary seems quite good. My only quibble would be whether Getreligion’s headine calling him “sexy” is itself lookist, focusing unnecessarily on the priest’s physical appearance rather than his popularity and his role in framing the priestly celibacy issue.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    A number of times above the word “clergy” was erroneously used as totally synonymous with “priest.” That is not true. The Catholic Church –even the Latin Rite–has a married clergy. We are called deacons. And more and more we are being given more duties and more are serving full-time with pay. (When ordinations of married men to the diaconate began (about 35 years ago) most were serving without pay and part-time.
    There is a school of thought that the Latin married diaconate–which is almost always ignored in MSM stories involving Catholic clergy and celibacy–will be the way to properly staff the Latin Church without taking the drastic step of ordaining married men to the priesthood or the totally untraditional step of ordaining women to the priesthood. Consequently some dioceses are doubling the number of married men being trained in their diaconate programs. That is also why the most radical change in Catholic ordination tradition in our day is virtually hated by some in the Modernist wing of the Church::it may head off even much more very radical changes in the Latin Church.
    It should be noted that celibacy IS a great value recognized in both the Eastern Churches and the Latin Church. Only in the East the celibacy line has been drawn between the priest and bishop level while in the Latin Church it is now between the deacon and priest level. Christ himself was celibate and praised those who would be willing to become “‘eunuchs’ for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”
    And since a man who wishes to be married to a woman, instead of his parish community, can be a member of the Catholic clergy and minister to the Catholic people in an ordained official capacity– then a priest who fails his vow of celibacy has some arrogant nerve complaining about the vow. He is the one who freely made the wrong choice.

  • http://www.soilcatholics.blogspot.com Peggy

    Oh my. I know it’s pronounced Koo-tee-ay. I was having fun with the spelling, minus the accent.

    On a tangent, it’s interesting that this story of this priest active in the media came to light today. I was very surprised last night to see a Legionnaire of Christ priest, Fr. Jonathon Morris, who is a FOX commentator, appear on the late night Red Eye show. While I don’t mean to sound prudish that priests cannot laugh with media folk, that show didn’t strike me as a right venue for a priest. Fr also mentioned that he had just moved to NYC–away from the LC community at a time when things seem to be a bit in turmoil still for the order.

  • dalea

    Dan says;

    Yep Dalea, that’s right, Catholics are not free to make up their own versions of Catholicism, even though vast numbers of them may purport to do it.

    In other words, there is no Sense of the Faithful, Sensus Fideli, which I understand has long been a part of RC teaching. Does this mean that RC doctrine is the sole province of the Hierarchy of the Church? This seems to be an argument from authority: the Catholic Faith is whatever the current Pope says it is. I have known enough Catholics who did not subscribe to this concept yet remained active and valued members of their parishes to be highly skeptical.

  • FW Ken

    I can go to the gym and regard myself a veritable grecian god, but I’m still a fat old man. Reality is a … pain…

    Catholicism (in fact, Christianity) is a communal religion. The community, laity and clergy together, think and believe in a give-and-take of exploration subjected to rigorous testing (“discernment”). At the end of it all, a decision is made as to what, among all voices, is the voice of God. Some people will disagree with the decision and leave, or ignore the community’s decision and pretend they are “good Catholics”. The history of the Church is littered with groups and individuals just like this. The groups are called “sects” and have a fairly short shelf life. The individuals live out their lives however they will and pass into the mercy of God.

    To impose an atomistic individualism on Catholicism doesn’t lead to understanding. To look at those matters on which Catholics may legitimately disagree and apply they process to matter about which we cannot is dishonest.

  • Julia

    the Catholic Faith is whatever the current Pope says it is.

    No. However, like the US President, the current Pope sets a tone and direction during his pontificate. Also, like the US PResident does not have the power to overturn the Constitution, the current Pope cannot just uproot 2,000 years of settled teaching. Even as new understandings over time develop, the Church moves very, very slowly in regard to core issues – time measured in centuries much less decades. In the same way, the Sense of the Faithful is not discerned by overnight polling.

  • Dan

    The sense of the faithful presupposes faithfulness. It is the “sense of the faithful,” not the “sense of the unfaithful.” As such, it cannot serve to promote teachings that contradict the Magesterium but, rather, can only deepen orthodox understandings. Thus, for example, it can play a part in the development of the teaching of the Immaculate Conception of Mary but it cannot justify dissent.